I want to make a short post to recommend a book. It’s short, because I’m busy getting ready to leave for my third week of job training to be a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health.
The book is The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World. (More information here.) It’s worth a read for almost all the gay men I know.
Alan Downs, PhD, the author, writes well about the struggles gay men face growing up and maturing into fully realized adults. The first point he asserts is that gay men are assaulted with shame at their homosexuality. He writes, “There was something about us that was disgusting, aberrant, and essentially unlovable.” (Emphasis by the author.) That thing had to be hidden, and by hiding it, we learned shame. We spend a lifetime overcoming this feeling.
He names three phases we pass through on our journeys. They are similar to the phases faced after being diagnosed with a mental illness. The beginning phase is being overwhelmed by that shame. Where have we read that before? Here Dr. Downs talks about denial and drowning. I know those well. I denied my sexuality until I was 35 years old. He also describes the lengths gay men go to in order to escape the shame of their sexuality. I went far. I married a woman, fathered three children, and became an alcoholic.
Phase two is given to compensating for the shame. The book relates stories of the heights gay men strive for in all areas of life. We look for the perfect job, for more money, for eternal youth through time spent at the gym, and for validation from our peers by having perfect homes, exotic vacations, etc. All is done searching for a way out of the shame.
Finally, the third phase is cultivating authenticity. All the compensation and probing for validation reach nowhere, and a gay man must look inward to find peace and satisfaction with himself and life. A good deal of the search for authenticity in the book is about healing trauma, which I am studying in my job training. Dr. Downs says that we are essentially looking for contentment, and I don’t disagree with him. He puts forth three ways we look for it: passion, love, and integrity.
Integrity really cuts to the core of the struggle of the gay man, meaning integrate all parts of oneself, or more formally, the state of being undivided. (Emphasis by the author.)
Importantly, the final chapter speaks exclusively to skills for attaining an authentic life. He even gives a chart for tracking progress on a daily basis. The list is long and thorough, so I won’t go into it here. Each skill is written carefully, and background information is given to flesh it out. The skills encourage us to look long term in our actions and search for authenticity.
I like the first one: “The man I would become.” The skill is to ask at each important decision, “What would the man I wish to become do in this situation?” I am experiencing a great upheaval these days, and I need to remember that question. It’s something to add to my Wellness Toolbox, I think.
There was much in the book I could relate to, and the writer relates many stories from his patients that were familiar to my own experience. What I found encouraging was that I honestly feel like much of the shame and pain surrounding it are in my past. It’s been a long road, but I’ve turned an important corner. I’m not going back.
I am cultivating authenticity.